EPA suspends environmental law enforcement

March 30, 2020 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that, in accordance with the wishes of the Trump administration, it will suspend enforcing environmental laws for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses will not face any repercussions for polluting American air, land or water, as long as they can claim their practices are related to COVID-19. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment,” said Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA. Related: Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous The memo explains that staff shortages and social distancing restrictions may constrain laboratories’ abilities to analyze samples and companies’ abilities to meet reporting obligations. The new policy applies retroactively, beginning on March 13, with no end in sight. “The EPA will apply this policy to actions or to missions that occur while this policy is in effect even after the policy terminates,” according to the memo. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute, which promotes the interests of gas and oil companies, sent the EPA a letter lobbying for the suspension of rules requiring these companies to fix leaky equipment or monitor pollution . Air pollution is particularly worrisome at the moment, as COVID-19 attacks the human respiratory system. People with preexisting respiratory conditions are especially in danger, as are those who live near industrial facilities emitting large quantities of pollution. Because these facilities are usually located in less affluent neighborhoods, those with low incomes and people of color will unfairly bear the consequences of these relaxed laws. The EPA’s new policy has shocked and outraged public health and environmental advocates. “EPA should never relinquish its right and its obligation to act immediately and decisively when there is threat to public health, no matter what the reason is,” said Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA enforcement during the Obama administration. “I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo. This memo amounts to a nationwide moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and is an abdication of EPA’s responsibility to protect the public.” + Environmental Protection Agency Via The Guardian Image via Environmental Protection Agency

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EPA suspends environmental law enforcement

Weathered-steel home near Palm Springs is the epitome of desert chic

March 30, 2020 by  
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Los Angeles-based EYRC Architects has tucked an undeniably chic home into a remote corner of the Californian desert. The Ridge Mountain House is a concrete and weathered steel dwelling specifically designed to sit in harmony with its breathtaking setting. In addition to running on solar power, the project also uses several passive features to reduce the home’s energy use. Located on a hillside with the protected Agua Caliente Indian lands to the west and the Coachella valley to the east, the Ridge Mountain House provides the homeowners with a seamless connection to the stunning wilderness that surrounds the lot. Related: Oregon couple spends years building their net-zero ‘extreme green dream home’ Although the building site was perfect for what the family had in mind, the rough terrain presented its fair share of challenges for the architects. The craggy topography meant that the two-story home had to be embedded deep into the hill using two large cast-in-place concrete volumes that make up the ground floor. The second floor was clad in a rusted steel rainscreen that blends in nicely with the rugged colors of the desert landscape. “The site is unique and majestic,” said Steven Ehrlich, founder of EYRC. “The house is close to civilization yet feels remote and private. Building on such a craggy site was complicated, but our contractors performed a feat of engineering. The pool and casita were built first, because they are on the downside edge of the ravine.” The project features two separate structures: the main home and a small casita, both connected by a wooden deck. This outdoor space, complete with an infinity pool and a hot tub, allows the family to enjoy much of their lives outdoors, dining al fresco, stargazing, entertaining or simply taking in the expansive views. The deck leads directly into the home’s great room via sliding glass doors. The rest of the interior spaces, with 12-foot ceilings, are flooded with natural light thanks to the sliding doors as well as an abundance of windows. Flooring made of gray concrete and burnished plaster and wax walls give the main living spaces a natural feel. In fact, there was no paint used in the house whatsoever. The Ridge Mountain House runs on clean energy . Rooftop photovoltaic panels generate enough power for the home, while natural cross ventilation and passive cooling techniques further reduce energy use. During the construction period, the architects and homeowners insisted on minimal landscaping, using only native desert plants. + EYRC Architects Via Wallpaper* Images via EYRC Architects

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Weathered-steel home near Palm Springs is the epitome of desert chic

Energy-efficient light bulb production could take a major hit

March 28, 2019 by  
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The production of energy-efficient light bulbs could be hurt by a new proposal. The Trump administration is looking to get rid of Obama-era laws that encouraged companies to make energy-efficient bulbs. If the regulations are rolled back, experts warn that less-efficient bulbs will increase energy bills and lead to additional pollution. The bulbs in question were not originally included in President George W. Bush’s 2007 law, which pushed for more LED bulbs . These products include decorative globes, often put on display in bathrooms, three-way bulbs and candle-shaped light sources. In total, these products make up around 2.7 billion bulbs on the market today. Related: This high-tech LED lighting could grow veggies in space The Obama administration attempted to place these specialty items under the 2007 regulations. But companies objected to the move and sued the government. According to  NPR , President Trump hopes to reverse the Energy Department’s position on the matter by not requiring specialty companies to follow the same energy standards as other bulbs. Experts, like Alliance to Save Energy’s Jason Hartke, believe the move does not make sense. Not only do these energy wasting bulbs drive up utility costs, but they are also terrible for the environment. In order to produce these specialty items, companies will have to waste enormous amounts of coal-powered energy for products that are inferior. “I just don’t understand the rationale behind trying to turn back the clock,” Hartke shared. “There aren’t many people out there clamoring for outdated light bulbs that use four or five times as much energy.” At the end of the day, the issue will likely end up in court, where a panel of judges will decide if rolling back energy policies is legal. Opponents of the move argue that the Department of Energy cannot reverse policies when it comes to energy standards. While the government and environmentalists battle it out in court, people within the lighting industry claim that they have no interest in producing bulbs that are not energy-efficient. The industry knows that efficient light bulbs are the future and that consumers want products that are both good for the environment and their pocketbook. + Department of Energy Via NPR Image via Geoffrey A. Landis and Kotivalo

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Energy-efficient light bulb production could take a major hit

Vulnerable nuclear waste stockpiles are becoming a"global crisis"

February 4, 2019 by  
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Nuclear waste is quickly becoming one of the world’s biggest problems. Earth’s growing stockpile of radioactive waste is troublesome, because these chemicals remain in their radioactive state for several millennia — and we have yet to come up with a foolproof storage solution. A new study explored facilities that store nuclear waste in seven locations around the world, including the United States, France, Japan, Belgium, Britain, Finland and Sweden. Officials discovered that the majority of nuclear waste lacked proper defense mechanisms, like secondary protocols, and are vulnerable to failing in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. Related: Blue dye could be the next key to harnessing renewable energy Storage of nuclear waste is one of the biggest obstacles facing nuclear power plants . It was once thought that deep underground was a good storage option, but that is not the case. According to Greenpeace , all of the storage facilities in the study showed some percentage of radiation leaks, which is incredibly detrimental to the environment. “More than 65 years after the start of the civil use of nuclear power, not a single country can claim that it has the solution to manage the most dangerous radioactive wastes ,” Shaun Burnie, who works with Greenpeace Germany and led the new study, explained. Even worse, some storage facilities are located in areas prone to natural disasters. For example, the U.S. is in the process of building a major nuclear waste site in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain range, which features seismic and volcanic activity, hardly suitable for keeping radioactive waste safe. The building of the Yucca Mountain facility was placed on hold by former President Barack Obama in 2010. Donald Trump, however, has expressed interest in reviving the construction and finishing the site before his term is up. As if that is not bad enough, governments are seemingly turning a blind eye to public concerns. The nuclear waste report comes after it was revealed that the U.S. government secretly moved weapons-grade plutonium across several states, despite passionate opposition from politicians in South Carolina. If scientists do not come up with a better method of disposing of nuclear waste, then it really could become the next global crisis. Fortunately, countries are exploring alternative renewable sources for energy that do not result in radioactive waste and are healthier for the environment. + Greenpeace Via EcoWatch Image via Pixabay

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Vulnerable nuclear waste stockpiles are becoming a"global crisis"

Federal judge blocks the Keystone XL Pipeline

November 12, 2018 by  
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In a major setback for President Trump and his administration, a U.S. district judge has issued an order to block construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline while the State Department studies its impact on the environment . Last year, the Trump administration approved the controversial 1,179-mile pipeline, but Judge Brian Morris’ 54-page order is preventing it from being built — for now. The decision does not permanently stop construction, but it is putting the development on hold until the State Department takes a harder look at the impact the pipeline will have on oil prices, the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions, potential oil spills and cultural resources. Related: The Keystone Pipeline leak was nearly twice as big as we thought Under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, there is an obligation to protect the environment. Under the Obama administration, the State Department denied a permit to build the pipeline because of the environmental effects. But President Trump shifted the policy when he took office and invited TransCanada to re-submit its permit application just four days after he was sworn in. Then, in March 2017, the POTUS signed an executive order supporting the Keystone Pipeline’s construction. Judge Morris wrote in his decision that the president did not give a reasoned explanation or a fact-based determination for the course reversal. According to NPR , there has been a lot of backlash from environmentalists and indigenous peoples since the pipeline’s conception in 2008 because of the possible environmental impact and violations of historic treaties. “Today’s ruling is a decisive moment in our fight against the corporate polluters who have rushed to destroy our planet,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “Today, the courts showed the Trump administration and their corporate polluter friends that they cannot bully rural landowners, farmers, environmentalists and Native communities.” If the Keystone Pipeline does become a reality, it will run through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Canada, and it will transport about 830,000 barrels of crude oil each day. Via NPR Image via Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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Yves Bhar designs compact, prefab homes to tackle the housing crisis

November 12, 2018 by  
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Yves Béhar has designed everything from high-tech wearables to voice-activated,  transforming furniture  — now, the prolific San Francisco-based designer is adding prefabricated homes to the list. Unveiled earlier this month at the Summit Festival in Los Angeles, the YB1 (Yves Béhar LivingHomes) is a line of prefabricated accessory dwelling units created in partnership with LivingHomes, the design studio of California-based prefabricated home producers Plant Prefab. The fully customizable homes are built with sustainable construction methods and materials, and they are aimed at increasing urban density while reducing the environmental impact of new construction. Designed with flexibility in mind, the modular YB1 can be fully customized to meet a variety of living requirements, climatic conditions and aesthetic desires. The first three available versions of YB1, for instance, include three different floor plans and roof systems thanks to a 4-foot grid system that allows for a range of 250- to 1,200-square-foot units. Depending on the footprint, the interiors can be outfitted with a full kitchen, bathroom with a shower, living room, a bedroom and an office. Homeowners will be able to choose the appliances, finishes, lighting and electrical systems ahead of time for pre-installation. “Following our work on efficient living with robotic furniture company ORI, I’m excited to extend the passion for tiny homes and prefab by partnering with LivingHomes. For me, the next frontier of design is to think of the entire home as a product that a homeowner can shape to their needs in terms of size, usage, aesthetic and lifestyle,” said Yves Béhar, founder and CEO of fuseproject . “This is why we’re interested in the customizable nature of prefabricated ADU’s: people want their living environment to be a reflection of their specific life needs. The design goal of the LivingHomes ADU is adding urban density with a range of sizes and home designs while providing a building system that delivers on sustainable and efficient living in urban areas.” Related: Yves Béhar’s shapeshifting Ori furniture transforms your home at the touch of a button To reduce the environmental impact of YB1, the designers will use Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood siding and cement panels as well as passive solar principles to inform the roof options. The houses will also offer Smart Home capabilities for measuring resource use and energy production. Plant Prefab’s efficient building system allows the homes to be constructed in just one month. Then, it takes only a day to install them on-site. Initial pricing for the YB1 starts at around $280,000; however, the designers hope to offer Yves Béhar LivingHomes for less than $100,000 in the future. + YB1 Images via Yves Béhar

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Trump administration prioritizes rural areas over cities in infrastructure spending

April 9, 2018 by  
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The Trump Administration has re-prioritized which kinds of communities, and what kinds of projects, receive funding from the popular $500 million transportation grant program known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). “More than 64 percent of this round of TIGER funding was awarded to rural projects, a historic number that demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to supporting the country’s rural communities,” the Transportation Department said when it announced the grant recipients in March. Democratic strongholds such as New York City , Chicago and Los Angeles received zero funding from these grants, while projects in blue states that were funded focused primarily on those states’ Trump-supporting regions. This means much more money for rural roads and rail projects, and less for bike infrastructure, green-ways, and sustainable urban design projects. The TIGER grant program was first established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package or economic recovery bill, under President Obama . While the discretionary funds are an important tool for the White House, they represent only a small percentage of the Department of Transportation’s distribution of $50 billion each year through the highway trust fund. After trying to eliminate the program twice, Trump recently signed a massive spending bill into law that tripled the program’s budget. Now, it seems, his administration has found a use for TIGER. Related: 69% of Republicans believe global warming’s seriousness is “generally exaggerated” Trump is not the first president to be accused of using the program to favor his political supporters. In 2013, at the start of President Obama’s second term, two-thirds of the TIGER infrastructure funding went to districts represented by Democrats in Congress. Much of this Obama-era funding went towards projects such as bike and pedestrian infrastructure while sometimes giving only the bare minimum required by law to rural areas. In addition to its shift towards rural communities, the Trump Administration, with its well-publicized focus on trade, is also prioritizing upgrades to port infrastructure in Alabama, Maryland and Louisiana. Via ABC News Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Michigan Governor declares Flint water safe, ends free bottled water service

April 9, 2018 by  
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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has announced that Flint water is once again safe to drink, and the state will soon cease the free bottled water service it has provided to Flint residents in the wake of the city’s drinking water crisis. “The scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” the office of the Republican governor said in a statement. “Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward.” Residents and local representatives are reportedly hesitant to trust assurances from the same administration that was responsible for the water crisis in the first place. Even though officials declared Flint water  safe based on scientific assessments, the multi-faceted damage caused by the water crisis will be hard to repair. “Governor Snyder has failed to address the psychological trauma that his administration put the people of Flint through,” said Michigan State Representative Sheldon Neeley, who represents much of the majority-black city of 100,000. “The fact is, the people of Flint don’t trust the Snyder administration or the science they pay for — science that previously allowed our city to be poisoned.” Related: 11-year old inventor becomes “America’s Top Young Scientist” for creating lead-detecting sensor Although the city switched from Flint River water to Lake Huron water — the original source of clean water for the city — in 2015, the community remains wary. “I don’t trust the water. Period,” Flint resident Debra Coleman told WJRT local news . “It could be five years from now and I’ll still never drink this water.” While trust remains an issue, some of those responsible for the crisis are now being held accountable. In 2017, six current and former state and local officials were charged for actions that contributed to the crisis. Via Ecowatch and Reuters Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Astronomers spot the most distant star ever seen 9 billion light-years away

April 2, 2018 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to undo Obama -era greenhouse gas emission regulations and fuel economy standards that were designed to encourage the development of cleaner, more efficient vehicles. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt will likely describe the move as lifting burdensome regulations on automakers to support the production of cheaper vehicles, but it doesn’t account for the costs of increased air pollution and continued climate change. Left in place, the rules would have reduced oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels while reducing carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of vehicles produced under the regulations. The rules that are set to be rolled back under the Trump Administration were created in 2012 as one of President Obama’s major initiatives to combat climate change . If allowed to be fully implemented, the rules would have required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Some worry that the United States ‘s decision to step away from stricter emissions standards could set a dangerous precedent around the world. “The concern is that automakers will go around the world basically trying to lobby regulators, saying, look, because the United States has reduced the pace, everywhere else should too,” Anup Bandivadekar, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the New York Times . Related: Congress rejects Trump’s renewable energy budget cuts While American automakers had initially lobbied the Trump Administration for more relaxed standards, they did not expect to see a complete repeal of the rules. “We didn’t ask for that,” claimed Robert Bienenfeld , assistant vice president for environment and energy strategy at American Honda Motor. “The position we outlined was sensible.” In a blog post, Ford Motor Company chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett wrote that “we support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.” The relaxed standards proposed by automakers were viewed as less likely to cause a showdown with California and the dozen other states that follow its lead on strict environmental standards. Now, California is preparing for battle. “We’re going to defend first and foremost existing federal greenhouse gas standards,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told the New York Times . “We’re defending them because they’re good for the entire nation. No one should think it’s easy to undo something that’s been not just good for the country, but good for the planet .” Via the New York Times Images via Depositphotos and the White House

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Astronomers spot the most distant star ever seen 9 billion light-years away

Trump fills his wildlife protection board with big-game trophy hunters

March 16, 2018 by  
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A new federal advisory board commissioned to rewrite rules governing the import of hunted animal trophies has been packed by President Trump with big-game trophy hunters. Many of them maintain close relations to President Trump and his family and are most likely to support Interior Secretary Zinke’s agenda, which is guided by the belief that the most effective way to protect endangered animals is to facilitate their killing by American hunters. The Associated Press conducted a social media and background review of the board’s 16 members and found that their governing philosophy will echo Zinke’s. The assembly of Trump’s wildlife protection board follows news of recent rules changes that would have banned the import of big-game trophies from certain African countries, including Zimbabwe. Although Trump initially claimed he would carry out the Obama-era ban on a practice he called “a horror show,” he quietly reversed this decision in early March . The rule reversal is particularly concerning given reports of corruption in Zimbabwe that indicate that little of the money spent by big-game hunters in the country has actually gone to conservation efforts. Related: Ryan Zinke claims wind energy contributes to global warming Despite the questionable current policies, Trump’s hunter-packed advisory board has some historical precedent. President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, brought conservation to the forefront of American life through his enthusiastic advocacy for wildlife and public access to wild spaces as well as the bills he signed into law, including the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was through this law that presidents were granted the power to create national monuments through executive action. President Obama harnessed this law to create several significant national monuments , including the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine and the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. President Trump is now attempting to use the same power to dismantle Bears Ears. The Trump Administration’s policies raise concerns that the current president will fail to live up to his Republican predecessor Roosevelt’s legacy and will instead threaten the survival of all kinds of life on this planet. Via The New York Times Images via Depositphotos and Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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